Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich flagrantly hid evidence in a 2005 murder trial, according to attorneys for the man convicted during the trial, and they are using that assertion (and others) to push for a new trial.
Hearings on the matter began Friday in the Shelby County Criminal Court room of Judge Paula Skahan.
At the center of the accusations leveled against Weirich in the hearing is a sealed, manila envelope. It was found by a prosecutor and a defense attorney as they were going through the state’s file on the case of Vern Braswell, a former middle school principal convicted of killing his wife.
They found the envelope had a suspicious sticky note attached to it. The new petition for Braswell reads:
“Although neither attorney can remember exactly (what) the note said, it was something to the effect of ‘Do not show defense.’ The sticky note was initialed ‘A.P.W.’ and dated. District Attorney Amy P. Weirich was counsel at trial for the state in this matter.”
Not turning over the envelope was a violation of a rule that mandates prosecutors hand over evidence to defense attorneys.
A U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, made it illegal for prosecutors to suppress (or hide) evidence that could help prove a defendant’s innocence or at least help their case in court. This kind of evidence is called exculpatory evidence, and if prosecutors find it, it is up to them to decide whether or not it would help the defendant’s case and, then, whether or not to turn it over to their attorneys.
If Braswell gets a new trial, it will be at least the third murder case in a year to get a new trial because either Werich or an attorney from her office hid evidence from defense attorneys.
Noura Jackson was convicted of stabbing her mother at least 50 times in 2005. A new trial was ordered for her this year because the Tennessee Supreme Court said Weirich did not give Jackson’s attorney a key witness’s statement.
Michael Rimmer was convicted in two trials (in 1998 and 2004) of killing a hotel clerk whose body has not ever been found. He was ordered a new trial last year because Thomas Henderson, a high-placed, veteran attorney in the Shelby County District Attorney’s office, did not give relevant evidence to Rimmer’s defense attorneys.
Braswell has always claimed his wife's death was the result of rough sex. But prosecutors said it was anger-fueled murder.
He was sentenced to 24 years in prison. He appealed the ruling in 2008 at the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, claiming there was enough evidence for a conviction, that the court allowed some unfair evidence, and that his sentence was excessive. He lost the appeal.
He appealed yet again in 2008, that time to the Tennessee State Supreme Court. His attorneys, said, again, that there was not enough evidence to convict him, that the appeals court allowed in evidence from alleged crimes in his past, that the appeals court allowed hearsay statements, and that the original court erred in sentencing.
Weirich has been ordered to court to discuss the missing envelope on Monday.